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There's been heavy debate when it comes to examining whether eating breakfast in the morning is truly beneficial.

Finals week is almost here, and it’s time for Dukes to optimize their energy in the last push of the semester. One way to do so is by eating a good breakfast in the morning — or is it? 

There’s mixed research results about whether eating breakfast in the morning is actually beneficial. For this reason, both sides of the spectrum — anti-breakfast, or intermittent fasting and pro-breakfast angles — are provided, so that a decision can be made about what works best on a case-by-case basis for each student. 

Breakfast’s importance sounds like it shouldn’t be a disputed topic, but that’s because as a society we’ve been told it’s the most important meal since a young age without any pushback. When one pulls back the curtain, however, its importance is up for questioning. 

Anti-breakfast (intermittent fasting)

According to Lee Holmes’, certified holistic health coach (Institute of Integrative Nutrition), hatha yoga teacher and whole foods chef, in her book, “Fast Your Way to Wellness: Supercharged Food,”she said exercise before one’s first meal can be beneficial. When one combines exercise with fasting in the morning, Holmes said, the results are amplified. 

Holmes said exercise before the first meal of the day triggers a cascade of hormonal changes throughout the body that are conducive to both building muscle and burning fat. When one is fasting, she said, one’s body releases less insulin, which makes it easier to burn fat and improves blood flow to muscles.

One might think, “If I skip breakfast, wouldn’t I get really hungry?” Well, yes, but only if one doesn’t properly know how to curb the hunger. For finals week, it’s best to not have a growling stomach as a distraction from recalling the iconography of Neoclassical art. 

To stave off that hunger, Holmes said drinking water throughout the morning can help prevent a hangry outburst. Because the body won’t be able to obtain as much water from food itself as it usually does, Holmes said, it will be doing lots of healing, regenerating and detoxifying, and adequate fluids are necessary to help fuel these processes.

Staying busy in the morning, maybe by studying during finals week while pacing in circles, is another great way to restrain morning hunger. Holmes said that being a full-time student complements intermittent fasting because students balance the line of being busy enough to burn calories in the morning, but are likely lax enough in their physical activity to where three daily meals aren’t needed.

Pro-breakfast angle

On the other hand, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends breakfast — especially for those with developing brains. According to Mental Health Daily, this development doesn’t stop until at least age 20, while some neuroscientists believe the brain doesn’t become fully developed until closer to age 30. 

Carole Alder, a dietician at the FDA, recommends a breakfast that consists of “protein, fat and carbohydrates [to] help children feel full and stay focused until lunch.” Alder suggests breakfast choices for younger children with growing bodies and brains to be some combination of eggs, nuts, a container of yogurt and a slice of deli meat or cheese. 

Context behind fat reserves and fasting

The human species began as hunter-gatherers. During this primal time, humans weren’t guaranteed three meals a day at whatever time they pleased. For this reason, it was important to stack fat reserves in case a deer couldn’t be hunted to provide the night’s dinner or the morning’s breakfast.

In 2021, and really dating back to the Industrial Revolution in first world countries (late 19th century), this notion has changed. No longer do humans need to store fat reserves in case the next meal won’t come. In fact, it seems like we practice more portion control on purpose than on accident nowadays. 

Since our next meal now comes when and how we want it for many people around the world, breakfast may not be necessary due to the needlessness of storing fat reserves. 

Regardless of if one feels like they should partake in intermittent fasting or eat breakfast, it’s important to do what the body responds to best, especially during finals week. Due to conflicting research, it seems as if the most likely conclusion to what’s better for each student exists in a vacuum other factors like sleep and confidence likely contribute to an optimal final exam experience as well. 

Whether one’s eating at 8 a.m. or noon, healthy food is crucial for optimal performance. Here are three options to kickstart any student’s day. 

Grant’s Ultimate Oatmeal — serves 1-2

  • 1 cup whole grain oats

  • 1 1/4 cup milk

  • Raisins, to taste 

  • Blueberries, to taste

  • 1 banana 

  • 1 spoonful creamy peanut butter

  • Shaved almonds, to taste

  • Cinnamon, to taste 

  • Dash of salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, fill with milk and put on the stove on high heat and add a dash of salt. When the milk gets a rolling boil, add the oats and turn the heat to low. Stir every minute for 5 minutes so the oats can get soft and the milk can cook off slightly. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and pour into a bowl. Cut the banana, wash the blueberries, add the raisins, the spoonful of peanut butter and shaved almonds and stir into the oats and milk. 

Grant’s Scrambled Eggs — serves 1-2

  • 5 eggs

  • 1/2 white onion

  • 1 Jalapeno

  • 1/2 green bell pepper

  • Cherry tomatoes 

  • Mushrooms 

  • Grated cheddar cheese

  • Grated swiss cheese 

  • Choice of meat (leftover steak or chicken if it’s handy, if not, then regular deli-sliced ham or turkey will do the trick)

Turn on the stove and add enough olive oil to cover the pan. Chop the white onion, jalapeno and green bell pepper and add to the pan to sweat for 4 to 6 minutes. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, cut the mushrooms in vertical rows 4 to 5 times then once horizontally and cut the meat into bite-sized chunks. Give the onions and peppers a stir, crack the 5 eggs into the pan and add the tomatoes, mushrooms and meat. Break up the yokes and give everything a good stir. Turn off the heat after 90 seconds, add the cheese and stir again. 

Red Onion and Zucchini Fritata (via Fast Your Way to Wellness: Supercharged Food)— serves 2

  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 small zucchini, diced

  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped

  • 1/2 red onion

  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 4 medium eggs

  • Small handful of basil, torn

  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the zucchini, garlic and onion, then cool for 5-7 minutes until the zucchini is tender. Add the tomatoes and basil, then increase the heat to medium-high and cook for about 5 minutes until any moisture has evaporated. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, then season with salt and pepper. Add the zucchini mixture and stir to combine. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat until the eggs are set. 

*The frittata can be browned under the grill or broiler at the end if preferred. 

Contact Grant Johnson at johns3gp@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and  lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter and Instagram @Breeze_Culture.